Reform Theatre Company is an associate of Harrogate Theatre and the two-week run of Seconds Out in the Studio Theatre is the only extended stay in a national tour of one-nighters, many of them in the Yorkshire area.

I’m not sure whether the advance publicity made the play sound too grim, but opening night was attended by a round dozen of audience members. However, Nick Lane’s play is more entertaining, more subtle and, ultimately, more moving than the synopsis might suggest. Since the plot springs many surprises, I’ll confine myself to the basic situation. Sy, university-educated barman in Doncaster, an outsider in two worlds, tells the story of his thoughtless, pleasure-seeking mate Tom who has managed to offend local hardman Flynn. Flynn seeks revenge, somewhat unconventionally, by challenging Tom to a boxing match (fight would be a better word) and Tom goes into training with the eccentric and reclusive Foster.

At the outset we appear to be watching a rather good example of the very popular brand of play where one or more characters take up an activity they have no aptitude for, train/practice/rehearse amusingly and finally over-achieve. It’s true that training with Foster is often entertaining (sparring to “Swinging on a Star” being one of his trademark techniques) and Tom does surprisingly and comically well in the fight, but throughout the play the focus and the tone shift cleverly and what follows the fight is totally unexpected.

Beginning as a rapid-fire duo, playing smartly off each other as two rather stereotyped extremes, Kivan Dene (Tom) and Ryan Cerenko (Sy) both gain depth in the course of the evening, the play at times seeming more a study of male friendship than of the physical challenge. Both move well in the limited space, Dene in particular in the training and fight scenes. David Walker pulls off a notable double as Foster and Flynn, the gravel-voiced gang boss and the trouser-less eccentric with a tragic past: Nick Lane is not afraid of the monologue (Sy has several extended semi-poetic passages well delivered by Cerenko) and Foster has a compelling narrative of the night that changed his life. Amy Walsh has a brief comic turn as a pub landlady, and her two young women (Sy’s neglected fiancée and Flynn’s over-“protected” sister, the cause of the dispute) are convincing and neatly contrasted.

Keith Hukin’s direction keeps it simple. Working in a small space with a basic set, he concentrates most effectively on communication and tempo. From the outset he sets a rollicking pace and, though he slows up for the more thoughtful scenes, he never allows things to drift.

Yorkshire dates for Seconds Out are:

18 -29 September Harrogate Theatre Studio

24 Sept. Academy, Barnsley

1 October Victoria Hall, Settle

3 October Square Chapel, Halifax

9 October Pavilion Theatre, Whitby

3 November The Junction, Goole